The Mormon Church has been in the press a lot lately with the “I’m a Mormon” advertising campaign on television and on billboards, a smash Broadway show called “The Book of Mormon,” and the hype surrounding the Mormon faith of Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John Huntsman. Mormons are known for encouraging their members, specifically young men, to go on missions, preaching the gospel and proselytizing their faith.
Long before the Mormon Church, Christ called his followers to be missionaries of his Word and servants of the poor and those in need. The growth of the early church summoned the need for certain individuals specifically dedicated to the preaching of the Word and the service of the poor. These individuals were called deacons, and included both men and women.
Though the permanent diaconate in the West declined after a number of centuries, it was revived by the Second Vatican Council. The seeds of that revival, however, likely began much earlier with the help of Frs. Otto Pies, SJ and Wilhelm Schamoni, SJ, who were imprisoned in the concentration camp at Dachau. Their experience of the terrors at Dachau helped them to realize the need for a more effective witness of Christ in the world and they believed that a revived diaconate was the answer.
The word deacon comes from the Greek work diakonos which means “servant.” Service to the Church and to the People of God is the primary essence of the diaconal ministry. Deacons aren’t junior priests, nor does their ministry usurp the gifts of the laity. They are called to bridge the gap between the Church and the marketplace as evidenced by their role in the liturgy: preaching and proclaiming the good news of the Gospel, announcing the community’s needs in the prayer of the faithful, ministering the cup of salvation and sending the community forth to love and to serve the world.
This weekend, my community welcomes another deacon in our midst. May all deacons be strengthened in their call to selflessly serve the afflicted and to proclaim and preach the promises of the Gospel. Amen!